We all know that the big winner for March is Women's History Month*. Some folks get in a twist about Women's History Month (as though the advances of the last 90 years mean that women no longer need our own history month) to which I say "Pshaw!"
Most people know about those big-name musical foremothers like Hildegaard von Bingen, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, and Clara Wieck-Schumann, but what about the others? Here's your freshman Intro to Music History, Lady-Style.
Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre
Like many women in music, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was hailed as a virtuosic performer before she came to light as a composer. While she composed in most of the forms of the day, her most well known works remain those she wrote for her own instrument--the keyboard.
Found it on the NML: Harpsichord Suites Nos. 1-4, HCD31729
Barbara Strozzi was a noted Venetian woman, the adopted daughter of playwright Giulio Strozzi. The surviving body of her work is vocal in nature, both solo and ensemble, ranging from madrigals to arias. The heavily vocal nature and similar pitching corroborates the view that much of her work was written for her own performance in her home.
Found it on the NML: Il primo libro de madrigali, Op. 1, CTH2441-2
Wife of Gustav Mahler. Alma Mahler was another woman composer whose work was largely suppressed by male influence--though not in such a benign way. Gustav Mahler thought it "unseemly" not only for women to compose, but for both members of a couple to compose. It is believed that he actively forbade her to compose, under the auspice of removing any barriers to her wifely duties. She resumed composition after Mahler's death.
Found it on the NML: 5 Lieder, 999018-2
The English soprano Liza Lehmann actually composed little before her marriage and the end of her performing career. She had a respectable career as a singer, but when struck by Bell's palsy she lost fine control of her vocal folds. At that time she turned back to composition, for which she had shown an aptitude when young but never pursued seriously. She enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in her lifetime with song cycles such as Daisy Chain, Cherry Ripe, and In a Persian Garden, and often accompanied her own compositions at the piano.
Found it on the NML: Daisy Chain, 8.557118
Amy Beach is particularly notable as the first American woman to experience large-scale success as a composer. As a young girl, Amy Cheney was, like many other females, to begin her career as a well-known performer. Once she married, becoming Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, her husband decided that she would compose rather than perform. She composed 300 works in her lifetime, nearly all of which were commercially published. This widespread success made her a giant among women in music.
Found it on the NML: String Quartet, Op. 89, CHAN10162
Johanna Beyer worked in relative obscurity in her lifetime, largely ignored as a composer even by the experimental music community. She continued to study with teachers like Henry Cowell and Ruth Crawford Seeger, whose influence can be heard in her harmonic and contrapuntal language. The work has been explored further posthumously and Beyer is beginning to gain posthumous respect as an experimental composer.
Found it on the NML: Clarinet Suite No. 2 in Bb major, INNOVA589
The elder Boulanger sister composed much less prolifically than did the younger. It is believed that Nadia thought Lili to be much more gifted than she herself was, which likely led to her halt in composition. Nadia proceeded to have an extremely active international career as an organist, composer, conductor, and educator. She championed the music of her pupils at every turn, among whom were counted Bernstein, Virgil Thomson, Carter, and Copland.
Found it on the NML: Pieces for Cello and Piano, 8.223636
Lili Boulanger was the possessor of another nascent performing career cut short by illness. She relied solely on private instruction for her musical education, as her frailty precluded a full conservatory education. Remarkably, she became the first woman to ever win the Prix de Rome with her work Faust et Helene in 1913. The broad use of orchestral color in her compositions was considered quite imaginative, as was her later exploration of polytonalality.
Found it on the NML: Faust et Helene, CHAN9745
Pro (women's) musica,
*Other March things that I deem "pretty awesome" include International Women's Day, International Book Day, National Grammar Day, and March Madness. I'm just saying.